My grandmother’s 80th birthday celebration a few years ago began as most of our family reunions do—with a Friday evening worship session. As the sun descended below the horizon, 13 of us from across Canada and the United States—one great-grandchild, six young adult grandchildren, four children, and two sons-in-law, converged on my aunt’s cozy living room to welcome in the biblical Sabbath.
After a busy week of travel and preparation for the special event, we finally had a moment of spiritual and physical rest! Even family members who were no longer regular churchgoers appeared relaxed and happy as we sang well-loved hymns, read a passage from the Bible, and prayed for one another. The familiar scene culminated in hugs as we wished one another “Happy Sabbath,” setting the tone for a weekend celebrating my aunt’s amazing life.
Sabbath observance was a given for us, having been raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home. Every week, from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, my parents, younger brother, and I would refrain from work (paid work, schoolwork, housework, yard work) and secular activities, including sports, shopping, watching TV, or reading nonreligious books. Our Sabbaths typically included family worship on Friday and Saturday evenings, church attendance on Saturday, lunch as a family or occasionally with other families, and physical rest.
Growing up, I enjoyed aspects of the Sabbath—like the increased family time and seeing my peers at church—but Sabbath often felt like a routine—a list of “can’t dos.” However, as life grew more complicated once I left home for college, I came to see the beauty of the Sabbath, a reflection of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (NLT).* I came to crave the Sabbath as a time to set aside any stresses or concerns and rest in Jesus’ love.
These days, working full-time as a communication professional and living alone, my Sabbaths vary widely, from a quiet Friday night at home and attendance at a local church to a packed weekend attending special church services or events. To understand a broader spectrum of Sabbath experiences, I interviewed friends from different walks of life: Fifa, a single 20-something man who’s a media professional; and three women in their 30s and 40s, all married moms of three. Aimee is a graphic designer married to a pastor; Pastor Liz is codirector of Family Ministries with her husband at a regional office of the Adventist Church; and Ladine, a high-school teacher whose husband is a financial counselor.
Here’s their advice on how to keep the Sabbath:
avoid a perfectionist attitude
To gain a sense of peace during the Sabbath, you will find that it’s best to prepare as much as possible before sunset Friday—cleaning the house, ironing and setting out clothes, preparing food and snacks, and doing other things that create a restful environment. However, your pre-Sabbath preparations may fall short as, Ladine says, “you feel the challenge of the deadline, and sometimes you can’t get everything done ahead of time.” Remember that the Sabbath was not meant to be burdensome; it was created for our benefit. As Jesus stated when questioned about healing on the Sabbath, “Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
accept that your Sabbath experience may be more stressful, depending on your stage of life
All three moms admitted that Sabbaths with very young children could be difficult. Aimee has two boys, Sky and Hero, ages seven and nine, and a one-year-old daughter, Cassia. She described spending much of the Sabbath caring for her kids, particularly her baby girl, so that her husband can focus on his pastoral ministry—since Sabbath is the busiest day of the week for him! This means she’s usually up at six-thirty in the morning to get the kids organized. Whatever your situation, remember that while the Sabbath may not always be restful, “[God’s] power works best in [our] weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For stressed-out moms, that’s a message worth remembering at almost anytime!
curb technology by replacing it with other activities
Like many of us, in his professional and personal life, Fifa spends a lot of time on the internet. On the Sabbath, he makes a conscious effort to change his thoughts from mundane things to spiritual matters. He’s found, though, that when he tries to forfeit his usual weekday activities without replacing them with something else, it’s hard to keep from relapsing into those activities. Thus, he reads spiritual books on the Sabbath instead of going online. He says, “It refills my spiritual energy and helps me refocus.” Ladine and her family are also increasingly seeking the “discipline of disconnection” by replacing it with such activities as visiting nursing homes, sharing their faith with their community, or going for walks. Disconnecting weekly helps us better filter what we view online as per the ancient but strangely apt words of Psalm 119:37: “Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.”
celebrate the beauty of God in nature
Fifa recalls going for family Sabbath walks along the beach in his native Madagascar. While he now lives in the much colder climate of Quebec, he still hikes with friends on occasion. Ladine, her husband, and their kids are taking more walks as a family where they can actively learn in God’s creation. She noted that it’s one thing to read how God cares for the sparrows in the Bible (Matthew 10:29) but quite another to watch a sparrow in real life and wonder at how God can provide for such a delicate creature. For her, a key purpose of Sabbath is to encourage us to acknowledge God as Creator (see Revelation 14:6, 7).
commemorate the Sabbath in a community
“Hero loves going to church and seeing his friends,” Aimee said, speaking of her nine-year-old. She hopes all her children will experience what she did growing up—lifelong bonds with church friends who became family. Living alone, Fifa especially appreciates his church’s weekly Sabbath fellowship lunch after church, which often includes birthday celebrations. It’s also a welcome opportunity to socialize with friends he doesn’t see during the week. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
celebrate the gift
If you grew up with the Sabbath, it’s easy to take it for granted. But it’s an invaluable gift given by a God who cares about our relationships and our health. And Sabbath has proven benefits! Researchers who traversed the globe to study populations with large numbers of centenarians and overall better health discovered that the largely Seventh-day Adventist–populated Loma Linda, California, is a “Blue Zone”—one of only five regions in the world that are known for human longevity. Moreover, in this study and others, the Sabbath, including resting from weekly activities and attending religious services, was found to promote better mental and physical health.
Finally, Sabbath is not about rules; it’s about relationships. Ladine said her love for the Sabbath has grown as she’s drawn closer to God. She says, “In this world of anxiety, overwork, and stress, the Sabbath is an antidote to all we experience—on a physical, spiritual, and emotional basis. The Sabbath reminds us that when God created the world, He carved out a specific time for a cessation of work so that He could commune with us. Sabbath observance is a love walk with a Savior who’s given us so many gifts.”
Helping Kids Love Sabbath
Get the kids involved in Sabbath preparation. Having your kids help prepare for the Sabbath not only will relieve pressure on you as a parent but also will instill in the kids a sense of responsibility and respect for the Sabbath. Ladine, for instance, rather than just dictating to her kids, explains why they need to do certain things, such as cleaning their bedrooms. She explains that such tasks are about preparing your heart for the Sabbath and giving an offering to God.
As far as possible, spend the Sabbath together as a family. For Liz and her husband, who often travel to different churches to facilitate workshops, being together as a family on Sabbath means bringing their kids along and getting them involved. For example, the children help with registering guests or handing out gifts. In Ladine’s case, where the children are a little older (12, 13, and 16) and more involved with their own ministry activities or events on Friday, the family still finds time to worship God together.
Have a special Sabbath meal. If possible, prepare your kids’ favorite food for lunch and enjoy it together following the church service. You can also have a special family dinner on Friday evening. If you have extended family or close friends nearby, strengthen those bonds by including them in your Sabbath meal plans or participating in church community meals.
Encourage your kids’ interests during Sabbath worship. In Liz’s family, at every Friday worship, Samuel (6), Isaiah (10), and Gabriel (12), who play drums, ukulele, and piano, respectively, join their dad on the guitar for a lively jam session. At Aimee’s house, Sky (7) has asked to study the Bible, so they do lessons with him on Friday evenings.
Share Bible stories and Christian values in creative, kid-friendly ways. Liz’s family often plays a “worship spinner” game with fun challenges, such as acting out a Bible story or paying a compliment to the person to your left. Liz’s family also reads from a kid-friendly devotional book for their worship time, while Aimee’s son, Sky, enjoys a themed boys’ Bible.
Ask your children questions after the church service. To keep children engaged in church, make a habit of asking such questions as, What was the best part of worship for you? What did you learn? Encourage them to respond honestly, particularly if you were the one leading the service!
Create enjoyable Sabbath traditions. Give kids a Sabbath treat, such as a new book or a sweet; incorporate and teach the meaning behind Jewish traditions, such as lighting candles, eating challah bread, or drinking grape juice; play their favorite Christian children’s videos; or just play appropriate music in the background.
* Bible verses in this article are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation.
Christelle Agboka is the director of the Communication Department for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ontario, Canada.